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By Robert Rapier on Apr 30, 2014 with 25 responses

Keystone XL’s Emissions Versus Coal-Fired Power

Another Courageous Punt

I hadn’t planned to write yet another Keystone XL pipeline article, but I have gotten a lot of questions since the recent announcement by the Obama administration that they are still unable to make a decision on the project. I agree with the Washington Post’s assessment of the situation, that this is now into absurd territory.

At this point I don’t think the project will be approved by this Administration, although it could be approved by the next. I think this is a simple political calculation by President Obama, that by foot-dragging and delaying he is keeping his environmentalist allies at bay, but without all of the political fallout around Democratic Keystone XL supporters should he simply reject the pipeline.

This is one reason I would make a terrible president. I can’t play games like this. You make a decision. It can go one of two ways. You can say “I am going to make a stand along with my environmentalist allies who voted me into office and reject a continued expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure.” That would be a courageous stand, albeit one more steeped in symbolism than in measurable climate impact. More on that below.

Or, the decision could be “We have run the numbers, and our own State Department says there won’t be a significant impact on climate if Keystone XL is built. Further, it will back out Venezuelan crude from Gulf Coast refineries in favor of a friendly supply to the north.” That would also be a courageous stand, as it would force President Obama to say “I am making a decision that you won’t like” to one of his major constituencies.

Instead, we have been treated to endless foot-dragging. I think the end game for the President is to try to run out the clock on the project. The longer the project is delayed, the less likely it is to be built. Alternatives to Keystone XL will continue to emerge. At some point, TransCanada (backer of the pipeline) may simply conclude that the need is no longer there and scrap their plans. That way, environmentalists could declare victory, Obama would save a little bit of face with Democrats who favor the pipeline, but likely lost in the shuffle would be the fact that the oil just found other routes to market.

It’s All Relative

My argument on the pipeline has always been that it ultimately makes no difference, as far as the climate impact goes, whether the pipeline is built. People like to talk about the emissions, but plug those emissions numbers into the climate models. Determine by how many degrees the emissions will affect the climate, and over what time span. Opponents don’t talk about this, because the results would be embarrassing. You would literally find that there is not a measurable impact over any time frame you could measure — unless you make some really outrageous assumptions (like all of the oil sands in place suddenly being released into the atmosphere).

But what about the millions of tons of carbon dioxide that will be emitted by the oil carried by the pipeline? Isn’t that significant? It’s all relative. Is a billion a significant number? It depends on context. A billion molecules of water is only enough to make about a billionth of a drop of water. We can add or remove a billion molecules of water from the ocean every day and there will never be a measurable impact. A billion is insignificant in this context.

This is the reason Keystone’s climate impact is insignificant. It doesn’t matter if it “sounds” like a big number. It doesn’t make a difference, because it’s like a drop of water in an ocean. It’s an emotional argument full of symbolism. I have been told many times that I am tone deaf when it comes to such arguments, but that’s sort of what it’s like to be an engineer. Show me the numbers. Calculate the impact in both cases (built or not built). That way informed decisions are made. I don’t like warm and fuzzy arguments, I like to try to quantify them and make them objective.

I have always contended that the global coal resource is a far greater threat to the climate. Some have misinterpreted this to mean that I think we should just forget about everything but efforts to reduce coal consumption. No, that’s not what I mean. But what I do mean is that the level of effort should be proportional to the threat. I think public awareness about the relative threat of coal relative to Keystone XL is grossly out of proportion. So you have this high profile campaign to stop Keystone XL, while 1200 coal-fired power plants are under development in developing countries. What I am trying to do is bring more awareness to the coal issue.

How Keystone XL’s Emissions Stack Up Against Coal’s

This brings me, finally, to the title of the article. I was recently asked how the emissions from Keystone XL rank relative to the emissions of these coal-fired power plants that are being planned. I had done some back of the envelope calculations to estimate this, but here I will apply a bit more rigor and document it so we can have all assumptions on record, and have an answer that can give some confidence.

According to the World Resources Institute, there are 1,199 coal-fired power plants that are currently being proposed globally, with 76 percent of them in China and India. Some are like Keystone XL and are awaiting approval, while others are under construction. The total capacity of these plants is 1,401,278 megawatts (MW), which means the average size of these plants is 1,169 MW, or 1.169 gigawatts (GW).

So how does one of these coal-fired plants compare to Keystone XL? It depends on the assumptions you make for Keystone XL. The pipeline is designed to carry up to 830,000 barrels per day (bpd), of which 730,000 bpd of capacity is reserved for oil sands. The other 100,000 bpd of capacity would be reserved for crude oil coming out of the Bakken Formation in North Dakota.

It isn’t realistic to assume that failure to build this pipeline would result in 830,000 bpd of crude not being produced. Rather, the incremental cost to ship that oil would increase, Gulf Coast refineries would continue to rely on Venezuelan heavy oil, and there may be some delays in oil sands development as alternative logistical routes are developed.

Might failure to build the pipeline ultimately translate to keeping 50,000 bpd of oil off the market? Possibly. But let’s determine the emissions from 830,000 bpd just to get our hands around how much this is. Per the EPA (and they show the calculations), there are 0.43 metric tons of CO2 emitted per barrel of oil consumed. Thus, each day the Keystone XL pipeline would transport oil that would ultimately result in 830,000 bpd * 0.43 = 356,900 tons of carbon dioxide emitted to the atmosphere. For reference, in 2012 global carbon dioxide emissions were 94.4 million metric tons a day, or about 265 times the amount that would result from burning 830,000 bpd of oil. (I actually thought it would be higher than 265 times). This means Keystone would transport oil that would contribute 0.4% of global carbon emissions.

Also according to the EPA, the average emission rates in the United States from coal-fired generation are 2,249 lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (MWh). If we assume that the new plants being built will achieve the average for US plants — and whether it’s a bit more or a bit less, it will be in the ballpark — we can estimate the emissions. (I am not certain how this calculation will turn out; I haven’t done it rigorously).

The average coal-fired power plant with a capacity of 1,169 MW can produce 1,169 MW*24 hours = 28,056 MWh of electricity per day. This in turn will produce 28,056 MWh * 2,249 lbs CO2 = 63.1 million lbs of CO2 per day, which is equal to 28,616 metric tons.

An easier way to think about it is that each day the Keystone XL would transport oil that will produce the carbon emissions of (356,900/28,616) = 12.5 coal-fired power plants. Another comparison is that the coal-fired power plants in various stages of planning are equivalent to (1,199/12.5) = the oil carried by 96 Keystone XL pipelines.

For these calculations, there are a number of caveats. I didn’t factor in the energy required to produce the oil sands, but then I also didn’t consider that for the coal. Probably more is required for oil sands production, but it’s small relative to the actual carbon dioxide emitted in the combustion of the fuel. Per the earlier EPA link, transmission and distribution losses for electricity average 7.2 percent, which is also comparable to the energy required to refine oil and move it to market. Again, we are talking about a few percent difference at most, so the comparison is definitely in the right ballpark. Note that we are also assuming 100% full capacity for the pipeline and the coal-fired power plants.

If I am critiquing myself here, I would ask “But wouldn’t it be significant to shut down 12.5 coal-fired power plants?” Indeed, when put in that context the comparison is more significant. It still doesn’t change the overall climate impact, nor the fact that world’s current overall emissions from coal are huge in comparison. As I previously calculated, the world emits enough carbon dioxide every four years that it would be equivalent to what would be emitted from the entire Athabasca oil sands reserve.

But the final caveat is the most important. If Keystone XL doesn’t get built, that’s not going to keep 830,000 bpd of oil off the market. Let’s say, hypothetically, it kept (830,000 bpd/12.5) = 66,400 bpd off the market. In that case, this is equivalent to the daily amount emitted by the average coal-fired power plant that is being planned.

Conclusions: Keystone XL = 12.5 Coal-Fired Power Plants — or Maybe Just 1

I have made the comparison previously that the world is building 1,200 Keystone XL equivalents with all of those planned coal-fired power plants. This comes down to the assumptions you make. If you assume “no Keystone XL” keeps 830,000 bpd off the market, then the world is “only” planning 96 Keystone XL pipeline equivalents with those coal-fired power plants. If you assume that “no Keystone XL” will keep 50-60,000 bpd off the market, then indeed the world is building the coal-equivalent of more than 1,200 Keystone XL pipelines.

Either way, at least now we have some sort of relative comparison, which depends on the assumptions we make. Feel free to critique my calculations and assumptions.

Link to Original Article: Keystone XL’s Emissions Versus Coal-Fired Power

You can find Robert Rapier on TwitterLinkedIn, or Facebook.

  1. By PhilipKGlass on May 1, 2014 at 3:37 am

    If the real marginal effect of Keystone XL only amounts to ~50,000 BPD of oil production, doesn’t that mean that the benefits shrink proportionally along with the CO2 costs? If the pipeline enables a lot of production of oil it enables a lot of production of CO2. If it doesn’t enable a lot of CO2 production it also doesn’t enable a lot of oil production. The two are inseparable.

    • By Robert Rapier on May 1, 2014 at 8:36 am

      “If the real marginal effect of Keystone XL only amounts to ~50,000 BPD of oil production, doesn’t that mean that the benefits shrink proportionally along with the CO2 costs?”

      I am not touting that it’s going to have huge benefits. It will be incremental oil, and it will push out some oil from Venezuela to our Gulf Coast refineries. I know the State Dept. tried to estimate the incremental oil, and I think they came up with less than 50,000. I know it wasn’t close to the pipeline capacity.

      • By Optimist on May 5, 2014 at 7:32 pm

        Seems like the marginal impact would be ~0 bpd, since (1) the oil gets shipped by rail & truck anyway and (2) the only impact would be the reduction in oil price caused by KXL, which seems to be close to $0/bbl.

  2. By Forrest on May 1, 2014 at 7:13 am

    Another point to consider. Environmentalist will attribute much CO2 reduction to fed CAFE regs. The logic goes, we will utilize fossil fuel as their is no other economic alternative. So, by marginal increases in mpg we gain terrifically in CO2 savings. We accomplish this by forcing auto companies to produce more expensive vehicles and by ignoring public habit of driving more because of spending less on fuel costs. Everyone claims the use of coal power will increase per need as well. No stopping the use of coal. But, the Green party refuses to minimize the damage by R&D efforts to make the fuel more efficient and less polluting per empowering cost effective solutions. They discount any such attempt to make coal less environmentally damaging and attempt to destruct any infrastructure within U.S. to become leader of reducing coal pollution. Personally, I consider much of the easy talk of environmentalist hypercritical. They demand solutions (that someone else has to pay for) that they are comfortable with or desire. They utilize the problem of GW as excuse to get their desires of which political power, wealth, popularity, and career development play an unseemly role. They just don’t like nuclear and will not listen to technical and scientific community per that solution. They do the same with solar and wind energy production problems; discount the technical and business problems and instead push bad regulations to stack the deck presenting a false impression to public. These environmentalist pick and chose science and fact to achieve desires.

    • By Forrest on May 1, 2014 at 9:13 am

      Another point to consider. DOE just reported per Oak Ridge National Labs study, the U.S. can double hydro power and do so environmentally with computer tools such as the hydro resource assessment program that evaluates habitat and environment factors. Hydo power highly prized green power with attributes that enable more adaption of unreliable intermittent power generation of wind and solar. Sixty five gwatts of power to be tapped. So, CIC should direct regulators to fast track hydro power for sake of planet and doing so with potential to offset fifty coal plants CO2 emissions. Wouldn’t that be great! And in doing so double power source of lowest cost energy supplier. CIC could then compromise enviro blockade of XL pipeline per this justification seeing how the decision would give the economy a much needed boost. Also, the reality of real life evaluations that the pipeline would reduce CO2 emissions per efficient transportation, increase safety, decrease environmental spillage, and decrease food cost per less expensive fuel supply and lower railroad shipping costs.
      But, per my experience environmentalist don’t like hydro. So they pick and chose facts and science to comply with personal biases.

  3. By Forrest on May 1, 2014 at 7:43 am

    R.R. frustration with politics, in my opinion is a frustration with present day vacuum of leadership. We’re experiencing leadership from behind. It’s a bad component of easy political posturing. IOWS weak decision makers suffer as they desire confidence of not being wrong and lack competence to instill any comfort from the leadership position. Career politicians hone this ability and reason number one CIC would best be picked from those professions where leadership required i.e. military, governors, and business. Typical political posturing examples; when history, popularity, or technical invention emerges the apt politician will put himself or government officials in forefront to control and take credit for the development i.e. fall of communism, tax receipts, improvement in economy, air bags, pollution control, job creation, gasoline prices, cost of health care, safety, low cost flue shots, racial bias, environmental accidents, and the rest that gov’t mostly an obstacle, at best when applied sparingly a wonderful catalyst to coordinate and propel cost effective solutions.

  4. By Jesse H on May 1, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    Even worse, your analysis assumes that the saving of not building keystone XL is the entire combustion value of the oil that it would either carry or displace. This is only true if there are not other sources that would be used instead of the oil sands oil to compensate. If there are other sources, then the CO2 savings is only the difference in CO2 emitted to extract and process the oil to product, not the full combustion value. You could argue that the small world price increase in oil due to higher costs and smaller volumes from this source would reduce the overall oil used, but these shifts are tiny, and probably increased by the CO2 increase by using less efficient transport (hence the reason it is more expensive). Maybe we are down to 0.1 coal plants?

    • By Robert Rapier on May 1, 2014 at 6:02 pm

      “Even worse, your analysis assumes that the saving of not building keystone XL is the entire combustion value of the oil that it would either carry or displace.”

      Yes, I have actually commented that it is entirely possible that carbon emissions would increase if the pipeline isn’t built. If it just takes the rail or makes it’s way to China, then that’s a higher environmental toll than if it went by pipeline and backed out Venezuelan crude.

  5. By Joe Clarkson on May 1, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    “because it’s like a drop of water in an ocean”. If a large problem is broken down into small enough pieces, none of the pieces are significant contributors to the problem. If the worldwide human-caused emission of CO2 is divided by 7 billion people, it is easy to show that one person’s emissions are insignificant, therefore no one needs to do anything.

    I sympathize with your emphasis on collectively mitigating larger sources of CO2 rather than smaller, but since that approach hasn’t made much progress in reducing global CO2 emissions, perhaps it is time to concentrate on the smallest sources, ones that even an individual can do something about. The Marshallese islanders live surrounded on all sides by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean. They have a proverb that, roughly translated, says “Adding one drop to another makes an ocean”.

    Each of us is a only drop in the ocean, but we can still be either part of the problem or part of the solution. The choice is up to each of us. Up to now we have been choosing poorly. Perhaps we all need to reflect more deeply on our personal responsibilities.

    • By Forrest on May 2, 2014 at 8:20 am

      My personal experience fits nicely with your attitude. I not a environmental evangelist per today’s activist standards, but what old timer’s once called conservation. However, my personal carbon foot print is but a fraction of typical household. I migrated to this position per saving money, low maintenance, healthy living, and family tradition.

      1. We fought the urge to move up to a Mcmansion size home, typical of baby boomer generation. Our home is modern and well insulated, but only 1,100 sq ft. It’s was small with family, but now a perfect retirement home.

      2. We have large glass exposure facing south. Home heats entirely on solar during sunny periods of winter. We remove screens and clean glass to optimize solar heat gain. I planted a deciduous tree at optimal position long ago to cool deck and house, yet not to detract from solar gain in winter. We use only a handful of hours of A.C. during heat of summer.

      3. Biomass or wood is utilized to offset NG heat 50%. Stove is 70% efficient and I operate stove to achieve max rating. Slightly over one cord of wood/winter. Wood stove dramatically reduces solid waste while being careful not to burn the high pollution waste. One kitchen 13g bag waste per week is typical. No need for garbage truck pickup. Efficient use of cotton waste and cardboard. Max benefit of recycling compared to energy wasteful practices of typical recycling. Wood fuel harvested from dead fall or yard pruning. Neighbors benefit as well by my wood harvests. Nor diesel truck, chippers, or arborist needed.

      4. We recently bought a higher mpg car for main transportation, half the fuel use. We combine shopping trips with commute trips and always chose warm car for trip use, if possible to schedule. We fuel vehicles with high percentages of ethanol for cost savings. Careful maintenance maintains high mpg for life cycle of vehicle. Vehicle lifespan probably close to 2x typical. Driving habits maximize mpg and minimize potential for accidents. Tire pressure maintained 5-8 psi over recommendations for nice pop in mpg.

      5. I practice relatively novel way to maintain lawn, that attracted interest from prof at MSU whom focuses on turf grass. Basically, a decade old experiment to manage lawn with max grass height. My neighbors have been picking up on my methods as well. My next door neighbor practices typical intensive lawn maintenance and gives a good comparison. My neighbor typically invests in irrigation, expensive chemicals, fertilizers, and 3x labor. He does have an attractive (golf) lawn, but my lawn more attractive to birds and this lawn can be equally or more so attractive visually. I had to modify mowing schedule, lawnmower, fertilizer, and weed management, but all at a lower cost of labor and money. The wood ash and char disposal wonderful soil enhancement. BTW, the CO2 benefits amazing. My calculations of GW emissions about equal to pulling one million cars off the road if entire U.S. turf grass land mass accepted these practices. Turf grass and active soil have amazing CO2 sequestration and conversion power! A basic point to consider, leaf blade a photo synthesis factory proportional to blade length. Double the blade length = 2x capacity. Also, petro chemical production of fertilizer is very CO2 intensive and acts to deter normal soil bioactivity. Instead use slightly more expensive natural fertilizer’s such as Miloganite for steadily improving lawn soil conditions.

      6. GW improvements not CO2 = lighter colored roof shingles, choosing low maintenance heat reflecting concrete for driveway, choosing light colored vehicles.

      7. Minimal use of jet plane transportation for local business and vacation plans.

      8. We often times purchase used clothing, hardware, equipment, autos (recycle). I practice intensive metal recycling for business and home. Metal recycling is a magnitude higher in value and actually profitable as compared to pathetic practices of typical cardboard and milk jug efforts so highly praised by environmentalist. These programs and can deposits are within reality a net loser to environment.

      9. Utilize CFL bulbs where practical i.e. not in cold garage. Put in well insulated skylight, utilize natural sunlight lighting, sleeping habits naturally optimize daylight hours, remove auto ice maker to improve refrigerator to top efficiency, maximum utilization of NG fuel avoiding more polluting electric since our power source mostly coal. Practice of avoiding use of chest freezer in garage during 4 hottest summer months. Utilize the ultra efficient digital displays and notebook based desktop computer.

      • By RBM on May 6, 2014 at 8:06 pm

        Would you happen to have HVAC cooling and heating load calculations for that structure ?

        • By Forrest on May 7, 2014 at 7:07 am

          Sorry, no ASHRAE calculations of heat load. The building is typical stick built construction. Floors are not insulated and lose much to colder basement same with duct work and water heater piping. Also, would like to change to on demand water heater, but hard water a problem. We keep thermostat at 64 for heating season and utilize wood stove for warm periods of 70 such as typical evening and cold winter days and weekends. Also, use small space heater for under desk warmth occasionally. Furnace and water heater shut off when house is vacant.

  6. By ThisOldMan on May 1, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    You’re missin’ the point: We don’t use oil for electricity generation, and we don’t use coal to power our automobiles. But most importantly: the only good CO2 is no CO2.

    • By Optimist on May 5, 2014 at 4:56 pm

      Riiiight… Do write us a letter when YOU have managed to reduce your CO2 emissions to ZERO…

    • By Robert Rapier on May 6, 2014 at 12:21 pm

      “But most importantly: the only good CO2 is no CO2.”

      Don’t exhale then! And don’t say that where a plant can hear you.

      • By Joe Clarkson on May 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm

        I think both your comment and Optimist’s are unnecessarily flippant. It is perfectly clear from the context of ThisOldMan’s comment that he is referring to any additional CO2 being added to the atmosphere. In that case “no CO2″ is quite good; not optimum, but better than additional CO2 from whatever source.

        He could have been more persuasive perhaps by saying “the only good CO2 is sequestered CO2″, since we now have much more in the atmosphere than is needed by plants and is good for the climate.

        Optimist, I do know of a few people who have managed to reduce their net CO2 emissions to ZERO (and below). I can tell you how they did it without asking them to write you a letter; they planted lots of trees. It is such a good thing to do that everyone should plant as many as they can (in addition to reducing their CO2 emissions as much as possible).

        • By Forrest on May 8, 2014 at 7:47 am

          My north woods boyhood experience in Wisconsin just the ticket per your post as neighbors and family planted hundred of acres of trees. Not per global warming fear, but economics. They put a GP wood chip plant in local town that created market for pulp logs. Much renewed interest in conservation, and forestry to converting abandoned farm fields. Clear cutting became popular method for regenerating popple forests. Of course the liberal news papers of Twin cities of Minneapolis and St Paul had cow of north wood ecological destruction with accompanying photo’s of naked woodland destruction. They portrayed lame demonstraters bused in for photo op. These apartment dweller armchair environmentalist watching PBS propaganda full of outrage. I was just a teenager back then, but didn’t believe they hype. I devised my own experiment to clear cut small parcel of forest land. Just enough to allow ample sunshine. Watched the tremendous spurt of tree regenerations for decades. It was amazing and the wild life loved it. Also, watched some commercial size parcels accomplish similar events. Gradually through education the Left started to behave upon clear cut operations. They won’t condone the use….just allow. One of my neighbors grew up to be chief Forrester for Yellowstone. He was in charge when it burned down. His family was radical forestry environmentalist that hated loggers. Yep, the guy got retired and Yellowstone started logging operations again.

  7. By Glen McMillian on May 2, 2014 at 1:17 pm

    I agree with Robert R that the actual amount of extra pollution that will be produced if the Keystone is built is trivial in terms of the big picture and that seems to me to be a copper clad cast-iron fact.

    Now the arguments involved, this being the case, boil down on the environmentalists side to making a stand and maintaining solidarity and morale among the troops.

    There is ample precedent in all sorts of human endeavors for this strategy for as far back as we have records. It keeps the true believers in line and motivated. It keeps them from listening to opponents. But in an age such as this one when information is freely available to anyone who wishes to seek it out it doesn’t work so well.

    Consider the case of a scientifically literate conservative young person.He will see through the anti pipeline argument as a moral deceit in a heart beat since he realizes the oil is going to get to market Keystone or no Keystone.

    This will reinforce any existing tendency to vote (GASP!!!!) a conservative ticket.

    I believe in conservation and preserving the environment and that runaway warming is a very grave and very real threat but the anti pipeline forces are making a major political mistake in this case because they are argueing giving up something very useful to the US in exchange for – nothing except a reduced risk of an oil spill along the route of the proposed line- which is of course more than offset by the increased risk of spills from train wrecks.

    We like it or not live in a darwinian world and we are in competition with the rest of the world for energy. We spend enormous sums on national security.The pipeline is in the best national interests of the US by any honest measure.IF it isn’t built the Canadians will find other ways to get that oil to market. It is going to be burnt barring the collapse of civilization preventing it.

    Speaking as an INTELLECTUALLY HONEST environmental advocate who also realizes that there is always a bigger envelope or box and a powerful opposition to be considered I would have advocated holding the pipeline hostage to as many environmental demands as possible especially a considerable stream of dedicated tax revenues to be spent on renewable energy and conservation issues.

    Real environmentalism doesn’t have a prayer except in a prosperous economy because if we are broke we aren’t going to be spending on cleaning up the environment.A broke country is going to continue to burn coal because coal is a hell of a lot cheaper upfront than wind and solar.

    We need to keep in mind as environmentalists that the public is not as stupid as we sometimes seem to think.I know dozens of conservative people who are utterly convinced that blocking the pipeline is a totally useless thing to do in terms of preserving the environment. RR has basically proven that they are correct.

    These same people are owners of recreational fishing boats and vacation places in the mountains where I live and while they are not ” green” in the sense of being fanatical they are concerned about the environment.

    They are skeptical about a lot of claims environmentalists make- claims which I personally accept as factual.

    When they catch environmentalists making patently false arguments such as the anti keystone arguments they are reinforced in their skepticism about such issues as peak oil and warming.

    This skepticism keeps them voting a republican ticket.

    There really are million of voters out there up for grabs.Honest arguments will convince the smarter ones to vote one way or another.The smarter ones will be our eventual leaders.

    The arguments for an issue such as warming are easily and all too often really over the heads of laymen. The average layman has to accept such arguments as a matter of faith – he can put his faith in science he really does not understand and made by scientists he really does not trust or in political leaders who make more sense to him.

    I have been doing business all my life with a lot of different people. When I catch one of them lying to me I cut off the flow of business.

    You don’t have to be very smart to understand that a democratic controlled state department produced an honest answer about the impact of the pipeline.

    The environmental community is shooting off its own toes in this case by continuing to oppose the pipeline. The dedicated green troops may be inspired but the typical man on the street who controls election results is getting more cynical by the minute about environmentalism because of the anti keystone stonewalling.

    There are victories worth winning and phyric victories that cost more than they are worth.If the pipeline is blocked for good it will still be a big net loss to environmentalism due to damage to the movement in the eyes of the middle of the road and right wing public.

  8. By BrianFriedkin on May 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Here an issue about the Keystone pipeline that I never heard anyone bring up: Since the tar sands require a huge quantity of natural gas to process would increased availability of tar sand gas divert natural gas into gas? Thus natural gas–an essential resource for heating and cooking– would be transformed into a wasteful product–driving cars. Since more tar sand gas production would increase the gas supply and lower gas prices could it thwart peoples incentives to conserve gas,–for example shifting toward more mass transit, electric cars, etc. So how much natural gas would the tar sands suck from the American natural gas market and how might it affect heating and cooking costs? Would the pipline enable a trade of cheap natural gas for cheaper gas and more costly natural gas? And if the pipline enables cheaper gas–and people drive more when gas is cheaper– it could actually increase CO2 more than your calculations show. What is your opinion about this Robert?

    • By Optimist on May 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      Since natural gas is cheap and oil is expensive, it makes perfect sense for the US to trade natural gas for oil.

      • By BrianFriedkin on May 6, 2014 at 2:09 am

        If natural gas is cheap now perhaps it won’t be for long if a lot is wasted on oil sand processing. So it doesn’t make sense to me at all until I see someone do the calculations. More questions: Would it be cheaper to build the pipeline to offset the gas transport cost or cheaper to convert vehicles to directly use natural gas? And if natural gas gets more used in any case for transport and ups the price would it make coal more attractive cost-wise for electrical power plants? So maybe even natural gas vehicles wouldn’t cut CO2 emissions much in the long run.

        • By Optimist on May 6, 2014 at 2:21 pm

          Natural gas is indeed the stepchild of DOE, with all the attention going to Uncle Sam’s favorite (hic!). If you are interested in the topic, you could do a lot worse than dig up RR’s old columns on the topic (search bar at the top). For example: “The U.S. currently consumes 390 million gallons of gasoline per day. (Source: EIA). A gallon of gasoline contains about 115,000 BTUs. (Source: EPA). The energy content of this much gasoline is equivalent to 45 trillion BTUs per day. The energy content of natural gas is about 1,000 BTUs per standard cubic foot (scf). Therefore, to replace all gasoline consumption would require 45 billion scf per day, or 16.4 trillion scf per year. Current U.S. natural gas consumption is 23 trillion scf per year (Source: EIA). Therefore, replacing all gasoline consumption with natural gas would require a total usage of 39.4 trillion scf per year, an increase in natural gas consumption of 71% over present usage.”

          “While natural gas is a bargain relative to gasoline, converting a gasoline-powered vehicle to natural gas isn’t cheap. According to this source, it can cost $12,500 to $22,500 to convert a gasoline-powered car to natural gas. Honda makes a compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicle, but according to this review in Car and Driver the premium over the gasoline version is $8780. A person would need to drive an awful lot to justify that premium. However, that’s what fleets do. They drive a lot. The large price differential explains why fleets would be interested in running their vehicles on natural gas.” –

          “For fleet owners, the economics of switching to natural gas are very attractive, even if natural gas prices climbed to $7/MMBTU. At current prices, a barrel of oil would have to be priced below $20 to be as cheap on an energy equivalent basis as natural gas. Oil is not going to be sustained at $20 again, and natural gas is likely to be a cheaper energy option than oil for years to come.” –

          “By comparison, the CNG fleet in America is only 110,000 vehicles (of a total of approximately 250m vehicles), and in Britain there are only about 200 CNG vehicles. As in the power sector, use of natural gas greatly reduces emissions relative to petroleum. The American government estimates that natural gas vehicles emit 60-90% less smog-producing pollutants and 30-40% less greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-fueled cars — thus there is enormous potential for developed countries to reduce their carbon emissions by encouraging a transition to CNG vehicles”

          As always you can blame the heavy-handed drunk for the twisted state of affairs: “Given the environmental and price advantages over petroleum (prices are presently $4.40 per million BTU for natural gas and $16.84 per million BTU for Brent crude, which must still be refined into finished products), it may seem surprising that more developed countries have not aggressively pursued CNG vehicles. But instead of encouraging greater use of natural gas in the transport sector, America has burdensome licensing requirements that make the conversion of vehicles to CNG very expensive.” –

          But wait, it gets WORSE: “One thing that I would like to add (assuming that you didn’t already know this or learn it since posting your piece), is that the cost of CNG conversions for existing vehicles is as high as it is because of EPA licensing requirements. For an individual (or shop) to be licensed to do a conversion, the person must pay $10,000 per year, per engine type, per year of manufacture. So that if a conversion shop wanted to do conversions in 2009 for Camrys for the years 1995 to 2005, the shop owner would have to pay the government $100,000 in licensing fees. Then, if he wanted to do conversions on the same models in 2010, he would have to pay the $100,000 again, even though they are the exact same models and engines that he has been licensed on already. And if there is more than one engine involved, i.e., a 6-cylinder and 8-cylinder, the cost would double.” –

          Oh well…

          • By Forrest on May 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm

            The conversion cost indeed mostly a regulation cost. I worked with a Pakistani Engineer that claimed conversion cost back home was $700 U.S. per auto. This was the same time when a Canadian inventor had a small wall mounted appliance that installation required no more talent than connecting a gas dryer. This appliance could refill NG auto tank overnight while parked in garage. Fuelmaker the company and appliance called Phill. By the time the various gov’t divisions regulated safety, health, licenses, permits, training, certification, yearly inspections, and the rest…It was reported cost of NG not economical and it wasn’t. Funny, the ultra low cost Pakistani conversions had an excellent safety record.
            What you describe is also killing auto companies incentive to produce flexfuel auto models. While the U.S. auto industry has long ago engineered the components to flex fuel standards they must comply with EPA regs and deregulate engine controller to fault with higher ethanol blends. If ever car companies decided to verify and certify pollution equipment per expensive regs they need only reflash controller with programming limitation turned off. The flexfuel model cost is entirely reg costs.

    • By Robert Rapier on May 6, 2014 at 12:23 pm

      “Since the tar sands require a huge quantity of natural gas to process would increased availability of tar sand gas divert natural gas into gas?”

      Yes, natural gas will be diverted into oil, but it’s in a location where they don’t have natural gas pipelines. So the gas is more or less stranded right now. They are shutting in gas production because they don’t have an outlet for it. That’s what they told me when I visited there last fall.

  9. By Forrest on May 7, 2014 at 10:16 am

    The National Climate Assessment report concluded how warming and its all-too-wild weather are changing daily lives, even using the phrase “climate disruption” as another way of saying global warming.

    The report says greenhouse gas emissions — such as carbon dioxide and methane, mostly from the burning of oil, gas and coal — have been collecting in the atmosphere since the mid-1700s. Carbon dioxide levels have increased 40 percent since the Industrial Revolution and methane levels by 250 percent. These man-made factors have added to natural factors that produce global warming, such as volcanic eruptions and changes in energy from the sun.

    My comments on the above report- Methane emissions decay 50% in seven years and gone by 10. Chemist now believe methane reaction with other chemically active emissions about 105x as powerful as compared to CO2 for heat trapping ability. So, since CO2 never decays wouldn’t best attack for money spent be limiting methane? Relatively quick results in which to test global warming science would be wonderful. They claim global warming science accurate, they could prove it with results from global reduction in methane. How to reduce methane CH4 emissions?

    1. Maximum use of recent advance leak detectors sensors and maintenance programs especially for the petrol industry. Fossil fuel production, distribution, and use is equal to 33% man made methane emissions. Drilling and capturing methane for burning a good thing.

    2. House livestock to capture methane digestion gases. This is accounts for 27% of man made methane emissions. Maybe eat more fish?

    3. Tap all landfills for methane capture…and utilize aerobic digester process for waste such as farm waste, yard waste, and municipal waste…16% No compost piles! Avoid rotting plant matter from farm fields to forest by collecting waste and decay upon anaerobic digester process or process to biofuel and biomass energy. Utilize waste of digester for soil amendment.

    4. Engineer efficient low cost wood stoves….11%

    5. Eat less rice…..9%

    6. Decrease wetlands as they produce 78% of nature’s methane. Termites 12%

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